Start from curiosity. Welcome and seek out difference.
I’ve written previously about our focus on accessibility with the WordPress mobile apps. Both iOS and Android provide an array of options focused at making their platforms fully accessible to everyone who might want to use them. Mobile apps get to benefit from these accessibility tools for “free,” it’s just up to app designers and developers to support them. Over the past year, we’ve worked hard to do a better job of that with our apps.
Designing and developing the apps to support accessibility options isn’t difficult in itself. What’s often hardest is simply remembering to make it important. Having a diverse team helps here; when the team building a piece of software is diverse, it’s not so difficult to keep in mind that not everyone can read the “default” text size, or tap a tiny link on a touchscreen, or understand the narration in a tutorial video. Another way we’ve been making this a priority on our team is by forcing ourselves to spend time talking to real people who use the apps, to expand our sense of empathy for the problems they might have when doing so.
A few months ago, my colleague Cesar provided a great example of this for our team. During his support rotation, Cesar had interacted with a person with a visual impairment who uses our apps. That experience made him want to learn more about the challenges that using our app might present for people who are blind or visually impaired. Eventually, he was able to connect with a group of students at a local university who have a visual impairment or other disability, to get their perspectives and talk about their experiences using WordPress and other mobile apps. Cesar listened to their comments with empathy, and left with some important lessons, including:
- The WordPress apps currently do a great job of supporting VoiceOver (all the students he spoke with used iOS, but we also support TalkBack on Android).
- That said, there are some interactions in our apps that are tough to navigate with VoiceOver — the process for adding media to a post was one area for us to improve.
- One student with a visual impairment mentioned that they use VoiceOver because of insufficient color contrast in a few places in the apps. We don’t always think about color as being a significant accessibility concern, but it can mean the difference between needing an accessibility tool like VoiceOver or not, for some people.
- We need to test with Braille displays, and find people who can help us learn more about how our apps work with that kind of technology.
- People come to rely on the accessibility options provided by native apps, and they miss it when they have to switch to web interfaces. One student mentioned that they didn’t use WordPress because there wasn’t a desktop app that provided all of the accessibility features that they’ve come to expect from mobile apps.
- Localization is more than just translation! These students go to school in Hong Kong, and said our app felt “very Hong Kong.” As Cesar put it: “This has always been a recurring theme… the feeling than localisations for Traditional Chinese were made with the Taiwanese market in mind (even though both Taiwan and Hong Kong use traditional characters, Taiwan speaks Mandarin, while Hong Kong speaks Cantonese).”
Accessibility impacts everyone who uses WordPress: the bloggers, builders, and business-owners who create sites. But it’s also important for the readers, followers, and visitors who come to their sites. Seeking out differences and thinking about how they affect the products we create is an important part of the process of designing and building. Without reminding ourselves regularly to think about people who experience the world differently than we do, we can’t design products that meet their needs.